From the Model T to the V-8, some of Ford’s best-recognized products rolled on spokes
Ford had an image problem in the twilight years of the Model T. The Tin Lizzie had gone from revolutionary newcomer to has-been in the 17 years since it was introduced. Henry Ford’s militant disregard for styling meant the T was almost a joke. As upstart makes like Chevrolet and Star started to eat up Ford’s market share, the company cast about for a way to make its cars more relevant.
One of the obvious choices was to give the buyer a bit of what was available in those other makes—luxury and looks. The basic quality of the Model T was as strong as it ever was, maybe better, but buyers were proving that they didn’t care if their car lasted forever, so long as it looked good when new.
When the 1926 cars appeared, they had plenty in the looks department. They sat lower, their bodywork looked more streamlined, and, starting in January 1926, some of them even offered those sporty elements of nickel plating and wire-spoke wheels. For the first time since the Model T was introduced, the Ford buyer had a choice of something other than wood-spoke artillery wheels.
Wire wheels had long been a popular accessory for a number of cars, and Chevrolet made disc wheels available on its Superior line from 1923. Wires had the advantage of offering a better ride than discs, and they were different from what Chevrolet offered. For 1927, Ford ramped up production of wire wheels, and late in the year they became standard equipment on closed cars.
Wire wheels, nickel plating, and even special sport models weren’t enough to save the Model T, however, and in 1928 Ford introduced its replacement, the Model A. Wire-spoke wheels were standard now and, although they still used 21-inch-diameter rims, the new spokers differed from the Model T wheels in several details, including bolt pattern: now 5 on 5½ inches instead of 5 on 5. The Model A wheel even changed part-way through 1928 production, due to a modification to the braking system. Early Model AA big trucks also received a wire-spoke wheel, although it was quickly supplanted by the more-familiar steel wheel.
When the styling of the Model A was overhauled for 1930, the wheels were not neglected. The rim was downsized to 19 inches and the hubcap was revised to a simpler domed piece. For 1932, the hubcap would grow in diameter, covering the lug nuts for the first time, and advertising the new V-8 engine, if so equipped (four-cylinder Model Bs got the familiar “Ford” script and oval). The 1932 models also received yet another adjustment in rim diameter, this time to 18 inches
Even in its stock form, the Ford Model T was a decent performer for its era. Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White recalled in 1936, “Its most remarkable quality was its rate of acceleration. In its palmy days the Model T could take off faster than anything on the road.”
One of the best ways to go even quicker in a Model T has always been to swap out the flat cylinder head for an aftermarket job utilizing overhead valves—actuated either by push rods or overhead cams. The engine on these pages—part of a genuine pre-World War II gow job in the collection of Lang’s Old Car Parts in Baldwinville, Massachusetts— features the venerable Frontenac T (for “Touring”) overhead-valve head.
Frontenac was a creation of the Chevrolet brothers. Initially, the Frontenac name was associated with the brothers’ race cars, but much like Enzo Ferrari a generation later, Louis Chevrolet had ambitions of turning his prewar Frontenac race team into a producer of road-going automobiles.
Unfortunately, the road-car program was a victim of the postwar recession of 1920-’21 and Frontenac retired from the business of building automobiles before it started. The economy at-large was in crisis, and the brothers were looking for quick cash. With more than half of all cars on the road being Ford Model Ts and the proportion of low-budget racing cars being closer to 99 percent, they recognized an opportunity.
The brothers enlisted C.W. Van Ranst, chief engineer of their road-car effort, to design an overhead-valve conversion for the Ford engine. Van Ranst created a cylinder head that was both powerful and durable. Coupled with the brothers’ reputation, the Frontenac head was a winning formula.
The “Fronty” was hardly the first overhead- valve conversion for Fords, nor was it necessarily the most powerful, but it was the most successful, with around 10,000 of all types sold. The original Fronty head featured a single intake port and triple exhaust ports arranged in a crossflow design. It came in three varieties (Racing, Speedster, and Touring/Truck) and all three used the same 1:1.5 rocker-arm ratio to actuate two 17/8-inch valves per cylinder.
The addition of a Fronty T to a standard Ford automobile would increase horsepower from 20 to 33. They proved a popular addition to many mostly stock cars and trucks, and drove the bulk of production. As you may have guessed, however, our feature engine is not “mostly stock.”
Pulling a distributor can be intimidating the first few times you do it. The distributor, after all, is where the delicate dance between spark and compression is choreographed. Put things back wrong and the engine may not run or may run so badly it’s at risk of damaging itself. Then, even if things are put back together more or less in the correct way, they still require fine tuning.
To get yourself as close as possible to the right starting point, pull out something virtually everyone has, a test lamp (12V or 6V, as appropriate to your car), and use it to find the exact moment your points make contact inside the distributor. Then, when you go to actually start the engine, you’ll already be within a degree or two of the proper static advance.
I recently had to do just that on my ’62 Corvair after combining the worn-out original distributor with a much nicer one salvaged from a 1965 110hp engine. It made getting the car re-started a snap.
For quite some time, I’d noticed my car had diminishing power on hills. Because it wasn’t that great to start with, that was a real problem. Although I’d installed a new distributor cap, plug wires, and rotor some time ago, I figured it was time to replace the points and condenser. Yet, imagine my surprise when I discovered they were both nearly new! It was clearly a deeper problem.
I turned to one of the best Corvair resources I’ve found yet: How to Keep Your Corvair Alive! by Richard Finch. The late Mr. Finch was a devotee of the raced and daily driven Corvair and offered up his book as a supplement to the GM-supplied shop manuals (which I also own—I insist on owning a shop manual for all my cars, otherwise I feel I’m just groping in the dark when I work on them).
In his initial tune-up instructions (which, of course, I’d never really gotten around to following until now), Finch describes testing both the vacuum and centrifugal advance systems. One problem, I quickly discovered, was that rust had formed between the centrifugal-advance weights and the plate on which they slide inside the distributor. I pulled them, gave them a gentle cleaning with sandpaper, and then reassembled things—confident I’d be back on the road shortly now that my mechanical advance was working again.
Except when I went to give it the test, the distributor shaft no longer moved when I turned over the engine with a wrench. That was a new and unpleasant development. Down inside the engine, the roll pin that holds the distributor gear had sheared. Something I only discovered once I pulled the distributor to investigate why it no longer interfaced with the engine.
Getting new roll pins off the generic-parts rack at the parts store is thankfully no problem. But when I got my old distributor cleaned up for repair, I noticed that the cam inside was really showing its mileage. I think it was probably run without lubrication for a long time. It occurred to me that I actually had a second distributor from a parts engine I’m slowly disassembling. To my delight, it was like new inside and still even wearing what may have been its original points, condenser, and dust shield.
I pulled the rusty, crusty vacuum advance unit off, replaced it with the unit from my original distributor, and swapped in the advance weights for good measure. Then I installed the Frankenstein distributor and went to set the initial timing using another of the Finch tricks: using a test light to know exactly when the points open and close.
Harry Miller was an artist. His preferred medium was race cars—complete race cars built from the wheels up. They cost upwards of $15,000 (almost a quarter-million dollars, adjusted for inflation) and spent most of the 1920s dominating America’s tracks. Unlike such contemporaries as the Chevrolet Brothers, Miller largely kept out of the speed-parts business. He briefly produced a cylinder head for the Ford Model T, but didn’t pursue that market further, supposedly saying “I’m not going to make any more of those heads for the Ford. Those Ford guys don’t have any money anyway!”
In 1929, though, Miller sold his business and retired mere weeks before the beginning of the Great Depression. Unable to stay away, he came back in 1930. Thanks to the terrible economy, however, he had to produce products far less exclusive than his famous racers of the previous decade. One of the things he marketed in conjunction with financial partner George Schofield was an overhead-valve conversion for the Ford Model A. The cylinder head had been sketched up by longtime Miller collaborator Leo Goossen in 1928, shortly after Ford began Model A production.
An overhead-valve (or valve-in-head, as they were often called at the time) design, the Miller head moved both intake and exhaust valves out of the engine block and into the head where the air flow would be freer and more direct to the combustion chambers. The port arrangement was identical to the original Ford, which allowed the stock intake and exhaust manifolds to be used if the buyer desired. The distributor hole was in the same spot as well.
Miller only produced this head very briefly, although Cragar (yes, that Cragar) took over the design and continued it for several more years. Original Miller-Schofield heads like this are a rare find and they still add a lot of pep to a Model A.
All of that is perhaps a long way of saying that a head this special deserves a build to suit. Unfortunately, that’s less common than you’d think. A lot of Model A and T “speedsters” are really just some seats strapped to a stock frame and it seems like when you see OHV conversions for these engines, they’re often on stock-looking closed-cab pickups. All of that is fine and dandy, but it’s not for me.
Great examples are common, and restoring one couldn’t be simpler
The easiest collector cars in the world to own are those you can get the most parts for. You can probably name a lot of them: the ’55-’57 Chevy, the early Mustang, the first-generation Camaro, the Triumph TR6, the MGB, and so on. As grows the hobby, so does that list (as do the criteria for being on it—which now includes complete reproduction steel bodies), but since the beginning, included the 1928-’31 Ford Model A.
The complete history of the Model A as a sensational new car – including its proven durability during the worst of conditions of the Great Depression and World War II, and its popularity as a simple and easily improved used car in the shortage-wracked postwar period – is too detailed to get into here, but suffice it to say that the historical popularity of the A translates to an extremely robust and complete aftermarket still supporting these cars on the eve of their centennial. Even in as-delivered form, the Ford Model A remains an eminently driveable car—married with some improvements developed when it was nearly new, it can traverse virtually any 21st century road with ease.
There are plenty of opportunities to do so, too. Two clubs serve the Model A hobby specifically: The Ford Model A Restorers Club (MARC) and the Model A Ford Club of America (MAFCA). They maintain technical libraries, advisors, and most importantly, communities of enthusiasts with whom to trade ideas, tribal knowledge, parts, and information. Both organizations are variously tolerant of modifications pioneered in the A’s earliest days as a used car, especially when the appearance is kept stock or made to resemble a period speedster or race car.
Many of those changes blend seamlessly into a road-ready car, ideal for participating in tours like those organized by MARC, MAFCA, and the local chapters thereof, plus multi-marque events run by other organizations. Moreover, unless you live in a really congested area, a touring-grade Model A makes a great fair-weather driver for any purpose —assuming your insurance provider and licensing authority agree.
Speedsters and more heavily modified cars will find themselves welcome at other sorts of events, including hill climbs and traditional hot rod gatherings like The Race of Gentlemen. Beware, though: Beyond a certain point, the more heavily modified the engine, the more temperamental it becomes and the shorter its lifespan.
The standard Ford closed body for all years of production was the two-door sedan (spelled Tudor by Ford, to complement its naming the four-door sedans Fordor). It also proved the most popular in original production, with 523,922 built in calendar-year 1929 alone (Ford didn’t track body-style production by model year) and 1,281,112 by the end of ’31 production in early 1932. Most in-demand today are the roadster and coupe bodies. The former is reproduced, and though repair panels are obtainable, no complete closed Model A body is. A late-1928 to 1931 Tudor makes perhaps the ideal Model A owner’s car for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the prospect of extra leg room in the front seats, attractive price point in the current market, and an all-steel body (compared with the wood-framed Fordors, built by outside suppliers). It’s on that specific model that we’ll focus here.
Engine and drivetrain
While it’s a flathead four-cylinder, and parts from the Model A engine have been made to work in the Model T block, there’s not much in common between the 177-cu.in. Model T engine and the 1928-’31 Model A engine, which displaced 200 cu.in. and made 40 hp at 2,200 rpm —twice the T’s 20 hp at 1,600 rpm. Famously, one reason the Model A is often seen wearing a quail radiator mascot is because its abrupt acceleration reminded operators of that bird bursting forth from the underbrush. The four-cylinder retained its reputation for quick starts right up through the V-8 era, when owners of “bangers” preferred to race from a standing or low-speed rolling start (the origin of the drag race) against V-8 owners. The V-8’s longer-legged nature was reflected in the popularity of the greyhound mascot on ’32-’34 Fords.
In its stock form with a heavy flywheel, the Model A engine remains a roadable unit, though it’s hard for most owners of driven cars to resist internal improvements when rebuild time comes along. Upgrades to the oiling system are popular, as are counterweighted Model B crankshafts (which permit a lightened flywheel and installation of a later clutch). Replacement of the poured bearings with modern-type inserts are frequently discussed, but probably overkill on anything but an engine regularly driven hard.
Top-end modifications, including additional carburetors (both stock-style updraft and later-style downdraft), high-compression (this is relative —stock used a 4.22:1 ratio) cylinder heads, high-performance camshafts, and free-flowing exhaust manifolds all exist and are of varying utility depending on the owner’s intended use of a Model A. Some more compression (Ford itself offered a Police head, though aftermarket heads usually boasted a superior chamber design and more compression yet—anything in excess of 6.5:1 is not advised with poured bearings), a distributor incorporating centrifugal advance (stock units are driver-adjusted from the steering wheel—not a situation favored by every modern driver), a Model B-grind camshaft, a downdraft two-barrel carburetor (Stromberg types being a good compromise between period tech, flexibility, and present-day parts availability), and a cast-iron exhaust manifold will give a healthy enough boost to any engine that you may wish to look into some of the brake upgrades discussed below.
Some A owners have gone even further than modifying the factory engine, yet without straying all the way into V-8 territory. More than one Model A has received, complete, the 50-hp four-cylinder engine originally found in a 1932-’34 Ford Model B. Aside from an external fuel pump, the Model B block looks very much like the Model A, yet it hosts oiling improvements and a counterbalanced crankshaft. Opinions diverge on whether the earliest 1932s had the balanced crank, but the real split in desirability seems to stem from Ford’s switch from sweated-on to cast-in counterweights, the latter of which aid immensely in rebuilding.
The Model B engine was originally packaged with a heavily revised transmission. The original Model A unit was scaled down from the big Lincoln transmission in use in the late 1920s — complete with multi-plate clutch. That clutch was soon replaced with a conventional disc unit, but the heavy flywheel and unsynchronized gears remained. When synchromesh was introduced to the marketplace, however, the consumer wouldn’t long stand for the necessity of double-clutching, and lighter flywheels had the added benefit of letting an engine gain rpm faster—though to the detriment of shifting unsynchronized transmissions.
For 1932, the Model B transmission was essentially that of the V-8 car, but in a gear case designed to work with the four-cylinder. In fact, gearsets from Ford passenger cars up through 1948 will fit in the Model B case, though it’s tight. Because the Model A bellhousing also mounts its pedals, many B-powered A’s will have been modified to accommodate the Model A oil pan, bellhousing, and transmission. Alternately, a variety of schemes have been worked up to use Model A pedals with later transmissions, including swaps intended for the Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed, the Ford SROD four-speed, and the 1932-’39 Ford V-8 three-speed.
Transmission choice complicates the rest of the driveline, as Ford cars built through 1948 had their driveshaft enclosed in a suspension member called the torque tube. The Model A axle, though theoretically not as strong as the V-8 units of 1933-’48, will mate with the later Ford transmission without modification to either. Adapters to fit the SROD and certain models of T-5 to the torque tube have been offered, and some enthusiasts choose to switch to an open driveline. That latter option is complicated, however, because the radius rods alone were not designed to deal with the braking and acceleration forces of the rear axle.
The Model A came with a standard gearing of 3.78:1 while V-8-era Ford axles were typically 4.11:1, so swaps to later rear axles are possible but rarely performed unless seeking added strength during a V-8 swap.
It’s got distinctive looks, great traction, and a horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. No, it’s not a Subaru Forester—it’s a Chevy Corvair. Old-time Vermonters I keep encountering swear by the little air-cooled Chevrolets as cars that would, Beetle-like, go anywhere in the winter and get home again. The rest of the world sees Corvairs as “the poor man’s Porsche” and, you know, I like Porsches too—providing they’re the safari’d kind.
Safari cars are usually moderately lifted versions of regular street cars with knobby tires, extra lights, skid plates, and whatnot to permit them to go offroad or at least down sketchy, class D fire roads of the type that we have a lot of in the remoter reaches of the Green Mountain State. A safari car is kind of like a Group 11 or Baja Bug, just with any other kind of car than a Volkswagen Type 1.
Corvairs have their own off-road history, having made excursions both through the Darien Gap and into the swamps of Florida back when Chevrolet was pushing them as capable compacts more than sports cars. Since then, however, most builds lean in the direction of emulating the Fitch Sprint or Yenko Stinger SCCA contenders.
Still, there are a lot of Powerglide-equipped Corvairs that will never run with the four-speed cars on an autocross track but could be used for other vehicular adventures. This is a rare (unique?) case of me putting my time and money where my mouth is: I already own a near-identical car, and this is essentially the plan I have for it, though here we’ll take a look at how to safari a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza listed for sale on Hemmings.com.
To start with, don’t imagine trying to replicate the New England Forest Rally in this thing. That’s a whole different car, incorporating a roll cage. For moderate driving, I envision just enough lift to deal with substantial ruts and clear oversized wheels and tires. That’s maybe an inch and a half to two inches over stock.
To accomplish that, the right way is new, taller springs and shock absorbers to match. Those aren’t something available off the shelf for Corvairs because most people want to lower their car or keep it stock height rather than go up. Spring spacers are another option, but kind of weak sauce for something intended as permanent.
It goes without saying that fresh bushings and an in-spec, adjusted steering box are mandatory before any modifications begin. You don’t want to compound deferred maintenance with weird changes.
The biggest weak points in a Corvair for long-term ownership are the rear wheel bearings. The wheel bearing for the swing-axle car was a unique design that interchanges with nothing except the ’61-’63 Pontiac Tempest. Further complicating things, the ’60-’62 design will fit a ’63-’64 car, but the slightly redesigned 1963-type bearing won’t fit a 1960-’62 Corvair. They’re not reproduced and weren’t intended as a serviceable part. The best thing to do, it seems, is to carefully drill a hole in the housing, install a plug (or a Zerk fitting—but some reports indicate that may not allow sufficient flow) and re-lubricate the bearing periodically. Having a useable spare set on the shelf also seems to be a wise mov
Brakes, Wheels and Tires
Speed is the enemy of brakes. This isn’t a high-speed build. Ergo, it doesn’t need bigger brakes. That’s good because the early model Corvair doesn’t really lend itself to brake upgrades. In the front, it’s simple enough to swap to five-lug disc brakes, but you’re pretty much stuck with four lugs in the rear unless you can dig up and shorten a pair of axles from a Corvair 95 (that’s the van/truck version, which used front suspension more like that of an Impala than the standard Corvair unit).
One upgrade that I do demand and have already installed is a dual-reservoir master cylinder. Losing one of four brake lines shouldn’t mean losing all four brakes!
I’ve never been a fan of 13-inch wheels—probably because I’ve seen too many of them wearing undersized tires. There are better options today for Corvair radial substitutes than there used to be, but 14- and 15-inch wheels are way better supported. My feeling is that a 25.5-inch diameter looks best on a car this size, so I’m running 195/75R14 Firestone Winterforce snow tires.
It happens that I had easy access to 14-inch Ford Maverick wheels, which have the same four-lug bolt pattern as a Corvair, but a slightly smaller center hole. I had our friendly local machine shop open them up for me and used ’59 Chevy dog-dish hubcaps, but a more straightforward approach would be to grab a set of 14-inch aftermarket four-lug wheels (and matching ‘56 Chevrolet-style hubcaps) from someone like Wheel Vintiques.
One caveat here is that at extremes of suspension deflection while the wheels are turned, they sometimes catch the fender lip—hence the recommendation to raise the suspension slightly. Otherwise, 185/75R14 tires might be the ticket to avoid interference.
Although the ad says otherwise, according to the crossed-flags badge on the decklid, this car has the 102-hp Super Turbo Air engine. Like all ’61-’63 Corvair engines, this is a 145-cu.in. boxer six. For 1964, Chevrolet stroked the 145 out to 164 cu.in., raising the formerly 102-hp engine’s output to 110 horsepower. The 102 is a good engine, but the 110 is an absolute stalwart.
I’ve already sought out a 110. Mine’s a ’65-vintage unit. A ’64 engine would be even better because it would come a lot closer to being a drop-in swap to the ’62 engine bay. Installing the later engine requires some parts shuffling—and a few ’64-only pieces—but is doable.
Alternately, I suppose you could have the 102 rebuilt with the 110 crankshaft inside; making a 110 completely disguised as a 102 save for the telltale harmonic balancer.
It’s the car that put a wrench in many a young enthusiast’s hands
Like a lot of things, auto restoration has antecedents in the pre-World War II era, but is most strongly associated with the postwar period. Brass car enthusiasts were already preserving and fixing those machines by the late ‘30s, but the first thing that most would recognize as the hobby/industry of today really springs out of the post-war DIY movement centered on the 1928-1931 Ford Model A.
Why the Model A? Well, a bunch of reasons…
Background on the A as a new car
Like the early Mustang, the Model A was a sensation when it first came out in late 1927, and Ford was hard pressed to keep up with the demand. From an engineering standpoint, it was strictly evolutionary, not revolutionary: The chassis, based on transverse leaf springs and solid axles front and rear, was very much like that of the 1909-’27 Ford Model T but with the addition of shock absorbers and front brakes.
Stylistically, the new Ford was patterned after the Lincoln Model L, though today both cars are often confused with the Model T because the subtleties of styling evolution in the late-‘20s/early-‘30s have been lost to the non-enthusiast public over the decades. Regardless, what was perceived as a handsome car in 1929 has endured as a period icon to later generations. It’s also more welcoming to most drivers compared with a Model T, both for the improved chassis and the seemingly more familiar three-speed, floor-shift gearbox—virtually the industry standard by then, though Ford had clung to a 1900s-tech two-speed planetary transmission through the end of Model T production.
To rectify the various perceived shortcomings of the Model T, a huge aftermarket industry had grown up around Ford in the 1910s and ‘20s. It turned its attention to the Model A immediately, though those attentions were severely interrupted by the October 1929 stock market crash (right about the time 1930 Fords arrived in the showroom) and the ensuing Great Depression. The resulting products were memorable, as they were intended to improve upon an already excellent, 40 hp car rather than bring a 20 hp 1909 car up to the present standard, and have been intermittently produced up to the present day
Influence of the A as a used car
Basic, stock Fords proved their durability in the Great Depression, and well-used examples are frequently seen in period photographic efforts by the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal Agency that employed many talented photographers to document the plight of rural immigrant families fleeing the Dust Bowl. While the Joad family may have driven a Hudson Super Six in The Grapes of Wrath, far more itinerant working families traveled the U.S.A. in Model A’s held together by optimism and ingenuity.
Jalopy Hillclimb provided an outlet for those dampened by TROG
October 22, 2022, was on everyone’s lips in Wildwood earlier in the month. As The Race of Gentlemen wasn’t unfolding, folks with hopped-up Model As and other sorts of traditional hot rods (that is, the kind that look like they did in the ‘50s and before) were looking for one more place to go fast before weather brought the driving season to a near-complete halt. For those who lived in or near New England, Campton, New Hampshire, was that place.
Held on private land and advertised almost exclusively by word of mouth, the Jalopy Hill Climb started in 2021 more or less on a whim, when Alan Johnston decided to try and get his ’39 Ford pickup to the top of his brother’s mountain/sand-and-gravel pit, which happens to include a steep dirt road and spectacular views of the White Mountains. The flathead-powered ’39 made it and spawned the idea of inviting other cool old (pre-’62) cars to attempt the feat themselves
It’s my personal opinion that the 1939 Ford Deluxe—specifically the Tudor two-door sedan body style—is one of the best designs to ever roll out of Dearborn. The pontoon fenders, fastback body, grille that looks like the bow crest of a Blue Riband liner, and even those industrial-looking wide-five wheels are all highly evocative of that moment just before World War II when a lot of 1930s trends reached their zenith. The style came back after the war, sure, but by then they were just placeholders for the futuristic designs everyone knew were on the horizon.
This 1939 Ford Deluxe listed for sale on Hemmings.com, nicknamed Ruby by its current owner, retains its original 85-hp, 221-cu.in. flathead V-8; floor-shift three-speed gearbox; and “banjo” rear. It also features a lot of subtle updates to make operation feel safer on modern roads, or as the ad puts it, to make “an excellent ‘driver’” and a “dependable, beautiful car that you can drive and not just show.” In fact, it’s said to be “recently driven on a 1,000-mile trip.”
The hidden updates, or as we sometimes call “road ready” changes to classic cars, include radial tires that look like stock bias plies; a repaint of the original Garnet Maroon color with two-stage paint; a six-volt alternator and a 12-volt inverter to feed a power port for things like GPS and phone charger; tubular shock absorbers in place of the lever-arm Houdaille units; a rear anti-sway bar; dual exhaust with glasspacks (a great sound for a flathead, it’s worth noting); an electric fuel pump “for back up” controlled by a dashboard switch; LED turn signals and emergency flashers; a manually controlled electric fan on the radiator; sealed-beam headlamps; and a fresh overhaul of the hydraulic brakes (1939 was Ford’s first year for them).
Back in the late 1930s or 1940s, if you wanted a 1932 Ford roadster and couldn’t find or afford one, the next best route was to build your own by buying some other kind of 1932 Ford and a 1928-’31 Ford Model A roadster, dispose of the ’32 body and the Model A chassis, and put the remains together. A lot of people came to prefer the combination of fenderless ’32 chassis and Model A roadster body because the less-massive Model A body wasn’t as unbalanced by the removal of the fenders as the Deuce was—plus the ’32 frame helped make up for the visual loss of the Model A splash aprons.
There aren’t too many unloved ‘32s waiting around these days to have their chassis pirated; likewise, few unclaimed Model A roadster bodies. You can buy reproduction 1932 frame rails, of course, but most people don’t care to go to all the trouble of replicating the details of a stock ’32 chassis when off-the-shelf hardware from the street rod suppliers does the trick. That’s why this rolling ’32 chassis in the classifieds presents a unique opportunity to build a period-correct Deuce-framed A/V-8 with minimal effort.
Surprisingly, this chassis is built around a mint-condition original frame, says the seller, “from an original roadster.” That likely means that roadster is getting a street-rod update. It must have been a nice car to begin with, however, as the ad says the chassis was rebuilt in 2006. It was also upgraded at that time, incorporating a 1934-spec Columbia two-speed rear axle (Ford’s optional overdrive up through 1948); a 1939 Ford transmission; and 1940 Ford (Lockheed)-style 12×2 hydraulic drum brakes.
At least two of those upgrades were actually current 1932 technology—just not at The Rouge. The Columbia was available in contemporary Auburn cars, and the Lockheed brakes were already found on Chrysler products. Columbia axles for the Ford were a spiritual successor to the Ruckstell two-speed axles used in Ford Model Ts. The Columbia was controlled by vacuum, rather than mechanical linkage, however.
The ’39 transmission is really a development of the 1932 transmission. The Model A transmission notoriously does not feature synchromesh, making up and down shifting a more complicated process and considered by some folks to be a step backward from the simple pedal-controlled transmission of the Model T. For 1932, Ford integrated synchronizers on second and third gear. The 1939 transmission has a more highly developed shifter and even better synchronizers than earlier units.
All that means that this chassis is already pretty much state of the art for 1940, aside from the Tacoma Cream 18-inch wheels—but those and their big sugar-donut whites are so nice looking, I think I’d leave them and even build the car around them. If they were on a roadster, then The Auto Color Library indicates it was originally painted Medium Lustre Black or Dearborn Blue.